03/25/2001

A dose of my own medicine. I was plugging away on my Celeron-400 yesterday and it was feeling sluggish. I mean it was bad. At times, barely usable. I started wondering what I’d pay for a Duron-700 these days, though I’d really rather put off any more hardware upgrades seeing as I just got around to ordering a new 19″ NEC FE950 monitor.

After I rebooted and Windows started booting really slowly (Linux never gives me this kind of trouble), a number of questions started running through my head. Is the hard drive going out? Are my backups current? Hmm. It froze, so I hit Ctrl-Alt-Del to restart it, picked Windows off my boot menu (against my better judgment, because Linux, even a really old distribution, is miles better than anything Microsoft has ever made, especially if you invest a little time learning its command line), and watched it boot in something resembling its normal time. Probably the system’s memory had just become totally blitzed and needed a harder reboot than my usual pick-the-restart-option-while-holding-shift procedure.

So I ran Norton Disk Doctor, found Outlook Express had blitzed the dates on a number of its files–typical Microsoft–and let it fix it. I looked in my system tray and noticed a couple of parasite programs (but I won’t mention any names, Real Networks) had reinstated their startup status. So I ran MSConfig and killed those. Then it occurred to me that I probably hadn’t run Speed Disk in a long time. I launched Speed Disk and found a huge mess. Before letting it proceed, I checked the options and noticed, adding insult to injury, that when I last ran it I hadn’t used the optimal settings either (the settings to use are in Optimizing Windows). Before letting it run, I did a little more cleanup (some manual directory optimization, also described in Optimizing Windows, or in the DOS 5 manual if you happen to still have it). Then I had Speed Disk rescan the drive and let it rip.

And after about 25 minutes, I had a fast computer again. That’s a whole lot nicer than spending $200 on system upgrades. Besides, if I’d paired that drive up with that motherboard without a totally clean reformat and reinstall, it wouldn’t have performed all that much better anyway. Better to make the computer work smarter instead of harder.

Micron’s departure from the PC business. I’m not sure why I didn’t comment on this yesterday. I really like Micron PCs, at least their Client Pro line. The Millenia line is basically consumer-grade, no worse than anyone else’s consumer-grade stuff and in some cases better, but still consumer-grade nonetheless. Although with the tighter and tighter integration of motherboards that probably makes less difference now than it did a couple of years ago.

I found the quality of Micron Client Pros to be much higher than Gateway, and frankly, usually better than Dell. Their service is first-rate. Now granted, I’m approaching this from a corporate perspective–my employer owns about 700 of the things, so it gets better support than a home user might. Generally they use the same Intel motherboards Dell and Gateway use. They’ve always tended to come up with combinations of video and sound cards that work better than Gateway’s combinations do. (Gateways can develop weird problems with their video and sound drivers that I’ve never seen on other PCs.) They were less stingy with the quality of power supplies they used. I didn’t always care for their hard drive choices, but then again, most PC makers just buy hard drives from whoever can deliver the quantities they need at the best price at any given moment. Unless you custom-build, you’re not likely to get cream-of-the-crop drives.

I’m afraid Micron’s departure from direct sales will mean the same thing Dell’s departure from retail did. When Dell left retail, there was a noticeable decline in the quality of PCs sold at retail. AST’s quality decreased, Acer’s quality decreased, Compaq and IBM’s quality didn’t change much but they didn’t seem nearly as inclined to keep their prices competitive anymore.

Since everyone’s using basically the same Intel motherboards with a different BIOS these days, I imagine the impact on quality won’t be tremendous (though Gateway’s love affair with 145W power supplies will probably continue indefinitely), but it will probably have an impact on price. Micron always undercut Dell, and frequently undercut Gateway. Dell probably won’t be so eager to cut prices with Micron gone.

Micron makes it sound like they have a buyer lined up for the division and it’ll continue to operate. I hope that’s the case, but I’m not too optimistic. Gateway’s having problems, Dell’s not happy with its recent results, and I can’t imagine a group of investors new to the industry will do better than Michael Dell and Ted Waitt.

Micron’s PC business shouldn’t be confused with their memory business. Micron the memory chip company is the parent company. Crucial, the manufacturer of memory modules, is a subsidiary. Micron Electronics Inc., a.k.a. micronpc.com, is another subsidiary. Micron Electronics’ two big businesses were PC building and Web hosting. So the Micron name won’t disappear off this mortal coil.

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